reserve training

Soldiers at the Pendel-Caminiti Army Reservce Center in Farrell participate in a training exercise that will teach them how to distribute fuel and water to troops.

Photos of a blazing 210,000-gallon fuel bag and a mangled U.S. military tanker hang on a first-floor wall in the Pendel-Caminiti Army Reserve Center in Farrell.

The images are proof of the dangers soldiers face in the Middle East and also serve as a source of pride, concrete evidence that those from the 475th Quartermaster Group are doing their part to help combat terrorism and establish a democracy in Iraq.

But above all, at least for the next week, the photos are reminders of the need to be prepared.

The 475th is responsible for storing, testing and transporting fuel and water to military and civilian operations throughout the Middle East.

The center in Farrell is serving as command headquarters for a two-week training mission that oversees the efforts of about 1,500 soldiers at seven other locations across the country.

“Next year, there are people sitting in this building who will be doing exactly what we’re doing over there,” Maj. Kurt Weinand said.

Eleven soldiers departed from the reserve center last weekend for a yearlong deployment to replace members of the 475th in Kuwait.

Weinand has served multiple tours of duty in Kuwait and knows firsthand the value of the training mission that has been around in some form since 1980.

“Without this exercise, I don’t think we would have done so well,” he said. “I think we would have been a failure.”

It was typical, Lt. Col. David Brown recalled of his service in Kuwait, for 300 to 400 trucks a day to load up fuel from storage sites and drive north into Iraq. Using the estimate of a higher ranking official, Brown said that’s enough fuel to supply the entire state of Mississippi on a daily basis.

The Army typically stores its fuel in 210,000-gallon bags that sit in manmade depressions carved into the Kuwaiti desert.

Those who have been overseas say the effort to keep planes flying and jeeps driving takes organization, communication and preparation, tempered with the ability to make quick directions and prioritize delivery points.

Without any enemy fire to dodge in the Shenango Valley, the center has done its best to make the mission resemble a combat experience.

Orange barriers make it difficult to get into the parking lot, which is surrounded by barbed wire lying on the ground. The soldiers carry guns and closely monitor those who travel in and out of the center. The center even serves soldiers military ready-to-eat meals for lunch. High-ranking officers participate in several daily briefings, where they receive updates on the status of battalions across the country.

During the exercise, instead of crossing an international border into hostile territory, the reservists in Farrell may keep tabs on the progress of soldiers who are literally driving across Minnesota from North Dakota to deliver fuel to an air base in Wisconsin.

There is no danger of encountering enemy fire, but Weinand said there are situations in which would-be insurgents approach the battalions and pretend to want to stop their delivery.

“One person making a bad decision can literally stop airplanes from flying,” Weinand said. “Well, guess what, that same thing applies in theater.”

“The only difference,” Brown said of a real mission, “now they’ve got the bad guys and they’re shooting at them.”

Before fuel is authorized for delivery, soldiers must first test its quality to make sure it is up to military standards.

The quality of fuel can deteriorate if it sits for too long or is exposed to dust, water or bacteria growth, Weinand said.

In addition to delivering fuel, the 475th also operates a Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit capable of producing 3,000 potable gallons of water an hour. The unit takes out contaminants, bacteria and uses a carbon filter to rid water of any potentially weird taste. The water is then injected with an acceptable standard of chlorine.

Weinand said if the United States were ever the victim of a chemical attack, the unit would be able to take water from a reservoir or lake and make it fit for drinking.

Due to the constant deployment of soldiers overseas, Weinand estimated that the quartermaster group is operating at about 25 percent capacity compared to past years. As recently as 2000, about 5,000 soldiers across the country took part in the same exercise.

But that doesn’t make it any less important.

Weinand said the exercise is designed so that a member of the 475th can eventually stand before a general anywhere in the world and, with confidence, assure him that quality fuel and water will be delivered on time.

“Our main goal, our main mission is to make sure no one runs out of gas or water,” Brown said. “The soldier, the military’s ultimate weapon, runs on water. Everything else runs on gas.”

The training exercise runs through June 23.

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